Many factors have come to fruition, paving the way for the stronger involvement of the Greek diaspora in shaping the country of their ancestors and strengthening the bonds between Greece and Australia on many levels in the years to come.
Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis, points to ways in which Greece is prepared to open the door to Greek Australians. “The time has come, and I am certainly seeing a significant interest from Greece to work more collaboratively with Greeks abroad, which is very heartening,” Mr Papastergiadis said, following his recent trip to Greece where he met with a number of government officials including newly-elected conservative Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Education and culture were the two main issues on Mr Papastergiadis’ agenda.
His initial meeting had been with Greek Internal Affairs Minister Takis Theodorikakos.
“After going through the community’s yearbook and educational booklets, I was able to provide a detailed analysis of what we are doing and where we are heading as a community and the minister showed particular interest in finding out more about the Greek Australians and their history down under,” he said.
THE RIGHT OF VOTE
The two men discussed the issue of voting for Greeks abroad and expanding the relationships with Greeks all over the world.
“The Minister outlined the direction his government is keen to take and assured me that they are focused on being inclusive with communities abroad.
“As I indicated to him, one way to strengthen the relationship between the two countries is through being inclusive, encouraging and respectful towards the Greeks abroad and also by creating a platform that would enable the direct representation of Greek expats. Surprisingly, there was almost no fear from the Greek government’s perspective about the effect of giving the right to vote and whether that could lead to a change of government,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
During the discussion, he noted that, irrespective of what expat voters’ political views might be, at the end of the day they would respect people of action and progress and that those two factors generally are rewarded and valued.
“If the Greeks in Australia see that there is action and activity in Greece, they will respect that,” he said.
The two men also spoke at length about the activities and past actions of the GCM and it was at that point that the meeting with Greece’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was arranged.
“They wanted to make sure that the message from Greeks abroad was one that was communicated to the highest level,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
Mr Papastergiadis also met with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos as well as Greek Deputy Foreign Minister for Greeks Abroad, Antonis Diamataris, to discuss cultural and educational matters.
“We focused on education and how Greek Australians could improve our educational output. In the space of the last three weeks since our meeting there has already been action on this and the Minister has organised to have attendance and participation from people in Australia at conferences in Greece,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
The two men also discussed the Greek teachers posted in Australia, cultural programs and bringing Greek Australian children to Greece.
“We had a phone conference with our education subcommittee in Melbourne so that we could brief him accordingly,” he said. “Again, what I found impressive was that they were prepared to listen rather than to tell us, which I haven’t encountered historically by previous governments where I have been told what we should do rather than have them listen and then we could agree on an outcome.
SAE, BUSINESS AND ENTERPRISE
Mr Papastergiadis also met with Greek Justice Minister Kostas Tsiaras.
Both having a strong legal background, the two men had met in Melbourne six years ago during a conference where Mr Papastergiadis had referred to the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) as a failed enterprise and an enormous cost to the Greek government.
“Despite not agreeing, Mr Tsiaras was looking for people with ideas and that’s when I realised that he was there to assist and listen. Since then, we developed a friendship and have maintained close contact,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
The two men spoke about the insights and the reasons behind people choosing to invest in Australia and not Greece.
“Like I mentioned to the minister, it comes down to the effectiveness of our legal system. Investors choose Australia not because of the trade and commerce but because of our legal system. They feel that they can get an outcome in any legal dispute they have in a period of nine months and that is paramount as it buys certainty and an issue does not stay paralysed for years. The Minister was very alarmed to this issue and we went on to discuss a platform and actions that we have implemented in Australia to ensure that different areas of the law are dealt in a short time encouraged by the tribunal system.
Since the discussions, two Greek Australian projects, have already been dealt with.
Papastergiadis’ visit concluded by meeting Adonis Georgiadis, Minister for Development and Investment and Deputy Minister for Economic Diplomacy and Openness, Μr. Frangogianis.
“The Deputy Minister was keen to discuss projects in intimate detail so that he could understand exactly the investment issues between the two countries. My understanding is that after my departure, the government approached the investors and looked at all options and alternatives as to whether they can go ahead with their projects in Greece or not.”
Although the Greek Community’s focus is on education and culture, Mr Papastergiadis says that the community is keen to affect change where it can.
“I found enormous humility and eagerness to help on the Greek government’s behalf. I feel that we now have direct access to the highest level of government and our voice is being heard at the top.
“Going forward, it is also up to us to action, to stay motivated and thrive to achieve the outcomes we are after,” he said.